World Immunization Week – celebrated every year in the last week of April – has recently wrapped up, and our Youth Ambassadors in Belgium are still thrilled about the opportunity they had in making their voices heard with their elected officials on an issue they have dearly at heart: global vaccine access as the fastest way to end the pandemic for everyone, everywhere.
Throughout the week, our young activists met with 23 decision-makers, including members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from across the political spectrum and representatives of the Belgian and Swedish foreign affairs ministries, with a clear objective: asking them to take action and put pressure on their national governments on two key elements to ensure that vaccines can reach every corner of the planet. The first one being the financing of the global scheme that aims to ensure access to tests, treatments, and vaccines for all (Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, or ACT-A); and the second one the sharing of surplus vaccine doses.
Thanks to their preparation, passion, and professionalism, our Youth Ambassadors were able to make a great impression on policymakers and secured commitments from them. So, what’s the secret recipe to be a successful advocate and secure policy makers’ attention? Hear it straight from our Youth Ambassadors Annelies, Barbara, Bruna, and Jonas!
Step 1: Get your facts straight to be the best possible “factivist”
We, as ONE Youth Ambassadors, are fact-based activists inspired by concrete evidence that we are ready to use when talking to people and politicians: our goal is to show that we have the knowledge and know how to use it to get our message across. But facts are only one part of the conversation. We believe that to convey a stronger message, we need to add a pinch of human emotion too. During World Immunization Week, for example, we stressed the fact that WE believe that it is not only unfair but also self-defeating, as it is in EVERYONE’s best interest that vaccines can reach every corner of the planet.
The training we received in the lead-up to the lobby week provided us with the most recent statistics on COVID-19 and vaccines’ distribution, in Europe but also in other countries such as Brazil and India, making clear that this pandemic has impacted everyone around the globe.
What helped prepare for the meetings with the MEPs was also to do some research on their political position and background, trying to find some commonalities to make the conversation more personal. At the same time, it was important to keep in mind to remain flexible, to pick on elements that the MEPs mentioned during the meetings, and use that too.
From this experience, we learned that the key element to becoming a successful activist is to remember what we are fighting for and that the person on the other side of the conversation is just that — another person.
Step 2: Be passionate and explain why the issue matters to YOU
Passion is the key to success to gain the support of MEPs. The desire to advocate for a good cause fueled by passion and authenticity will bring the greatest results because it creates an emotional connection with the MEPs. They believe what you tell them about your personal connection to vaccine diplomacy. It is even more important as you only have your voice in digital meetings and no body language.
Personality makes the MEPs understand your personal point of view from an emotional perspective. We, as Youth Ambassadors for ONE, have the responsibility but also the opportunity to speak for a whole generation. Therefore, personal stories create the atmosphere for MEPs to relate to your story and your cause.
One of the most encouraging moments was a meeting with an MEP during which she told us that she was advocating for similar causes when she was younger. She encouraged us to continue being the loud and critical voices of civil society. We could see that you can start as advocates but can be in a decision-making position in the future and shape the political outcome to create a better world for everyone.
Step 3: Know what you want to get out of the meeting and combine it all with a pinch of flexibility
No advocacy meeting will be successful without a clear call to action! And we, as ONE Youth Ambassadors, need to know exactly what we are calling for. Besides pointing out the issues and our motivations, it is important to present the policymakers with concrete actions that will support our campaign.
For example, during World Immunization Week, we asked MEPs to send a letter to their national leaders to highlight the importance of vaccine dose sharing. We clearly emphasized our goal, and what was expected from the MEPs (send the letter!) since the beginning. This not only facilitated the flow of the meetings, but also helped us measure the success of our campaign at the end of the week.
Obviously, things can go differently than expected… and we need to be cool with it! Some policymakers might not be willing to support the campaign; others might be late for the meetings; or connection problems may occur. These situations can be challenging, but it is important to keep calm, be flexible, and have a positive attitude towards them!
Final step: Enjoy the moment!
Stress is usually a dangerous partner that likes to accompany us especially in the moments when we need it the least. We had prepared, we had practiced, and we knew what was waiting for us — but that still doesn’t change the feeling of butterflies you have just before the MEP connects and you are ready to present your case. After all, it is us, ONE Youth Ambassadors, talking to people that have the reach to make an actual change, which is equally as exciting as it is terrifying.
This all changed once the MEPs started talking to us. The power balance we might have expected was exchanged for a discussion between two equals. Each of the MEPs were genuinely interested in what we wanted to say, and remembered the details of our speech and the countries we came from. They wanted to know our opinions, and being valued in this way is a sensational and highly encouraging feeling. One of the MEPs started a conversation by applauding the fact that he sees so many young leaders and this gives him hope for the future. Ending a meeting with this type of encouragement makes you feel like you are able to achieve anything you set your mind to.